Ireland: ‘Mother and baby homes’ investigation must be robust and comprehensive

The Irish government’s establishment of an independent Commission of Investigation into ‘mother and baby homes’ must result in an effective and comprehensive investigation that is fully compliant with Ireland’s human rights obligations, Amnesty International said today in a letter to Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny.“Ireland’s obligation to ensure truth, justice and reparations for victims of past human rights abuses must be central to the work of this pending Commission of Investigation,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.“The commission must be mandated to investigate the causes of high infant mortality rates at ‘mother and baby’ homes around the country, as well as other reported concerns including alleged illegal adoption practices, vaccine trials conducted on children without consent, forced labour, and that women were denied adequate medical care.“Confronting, acknowledging and dealing with this legacy of past human rights abuses are essential if Ireland is to move forward as a rights-respecting society.” The proposed Commission of Investigation meets the required hallmark of independence, but the Irish government must ensure that it is provided with a robust human rights-compliant mandate and adequate resources. The government must respond to the commission’s findings based on a more faithful adherence to its obligations under international human rights law than in the case of the Magdalene Laundries.“In establishing this investigation the Irish government must ensure it does not mirror previous flawed processes, in particular how it responded to reports of abuse of women and children in the Magdalene Laundries. The 2013 interdepartmental review is a model of how not to carry out effective investigations into past human rights abuses,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland. “In addition, the government has used that review to downplay the human rights abuses in the Magdalene Laundries. The government must approach this new Commission of Investigation process with greater integrity. Most particularly, the government must also, once and for all, deal with the countless allegations of arbitrary detention, forced labour and ill-treatment of women in the Magdalene Laundries.” In its letter, Amnesty International notes the calls of some survivors of the Magdalene Laundries and the organization, Justice for Magdalenes Research, to have the remit of the newly announced Commission of Investigation extended to those institutions. Amnesty International has called on the government to give this suggestion full and proper consideration.

“If properly mandated, this Commission of Investigation could indeed be an opportunity to finally ensure truth and accountability for past human rights abuses experienced in the Magdalene Laundries,” said Colm O’Gorman.Amnesty International also noted that, while the Irish government must expeditiously progress the urgently needed investigation into the ‘mother and baby homes’ and Magdalene Laundries, it must also reflect on what other gaps may exist in its investigation to date of past institutional abuse allegations.“The renewed focus on allegations of human rights abuses in ‘mother and baby homes’ also highlights some significant gaps in how Ireland has dealt with past institutional abuse, despite a number of previous investigations and reports. The Irish government must now reflect on what other gaps remain, and ensure they are addressed promptly and effectively,” said Colm O’Gorman.BackgroundThe discovery of the remains of up to 796 babies and children who died at a former ‘mother and baby home’ in Tuam, Co Galway, prompted the Irish government to announce on 10 June 2014 that it would launch a Commission of Investigation to look into allegations of human rights abuses at such ‘homes’ across Ireland. ‘Homes’ like the one in Tuam were funded by the State and operated by religious orders from the 1920s to the up to the beginning of the 1990s, a time when bearing a child outside marriage carried significant social stigma. Amnesty International urges that the Commission of Investigation into the ‘mother and baby homes’ be mandated with the powers and authority to gather all information it considers relevant, including the power to compel the production of information and the attendance of persons as and when necessary. It should be able to determine whether any human rights abuses occurred, and, if so, identify the victims insofar as possible. It should analyse factors contributing to any human rights abuses unveiled – including, but not limited to, institutional structures, and policies and practices – and the role of the State and other institutions, by action or omission, in their commission. The Commission of Investigation must have the mandate to formulate effective recommendations for providing full reparation to the victims, including their families, for any human rights abuses found. The Commission of Investigation should enjoy financial, administrative and operational autonomy. It should receive sufficient resources, including support from a sufficient number of experienced, trained and skilled staff. It should also have access to impartial, expert legal counsel. As a matter of principle, all aspects of its work should be transparent and made public, subject to the confidentiality required to protect the rights of individual victims, witnesses and others. Victims should be able to participate effectively in the commission’s investigations and be consulted on key issues where their interests are affected. They should be treated with respect for their dignity and with humanity.Amnesty International has criticized the Irish government for its failure to establish a prompt, thorough and independent investigation into human rights abuses in the Magdalene Laundries as recommended by the UN Committee Against Torture in 2011. On 5 February 2013, a government-mandated Inter-Departmental Committee published a report to “clarify any State interaction with the Magdalene Laundries”. However, it did not investigate numerous allegations of human rights abuses and did not result in adequate standards of truth, justice and reparations. Its findings are contradicted by the direct testimony of many survivors about the range of abuses, including inhuman and degrading treatment, arbitrary detention and forced labour, experienced by many women and girls in these institutions.